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the lady in the van, ,  biographical film, biography, review, biopic

The Lady in the Van (2015) 

“The writer is double”, Alan Bennett explains. “There is the self who does the writing and there is the self who does the living.” There’s the Bennett who sits at his desk, wryly commenting on the proceedings as they parade past his window, and there's the other Bennett who actually doesn’t do that much living at all. He's too busy arguing with and caring for the lady in the van.

Miss Shepherd is homeless, a brief prologue hinting at a possible reason why. The residents of Camden Town tolerate her presence as it serves to assuage their collective guilt. For her part, Miss Shepherd tolerates the residents, but only barely. Gifts of food, clothing and Christmas presents are begrudgingly accepted. However, should anybody play music within her vicinity, she shows her displeasure by abruptly upping sticks and parking elsewhere. “Madam’s on the move” the neighbours cry, secretly rejoicing the lady is about to park her van outside somebody else's house. Which is where Alan Bennett steps in. Concerned for her safety after some local louts harass her, Bennett invites Miss Shepherd to park in his driveway for a few months. She stays for the next fifteen years.

Though the interaction between Bennett and Miss Shepherd provides the main narrative for this film, it is the banter between the duelling Bennetts that underscores this farce. The writer, observing his alter ego faltering against unreasonable logic, generates many laugh out loud moments with his pointed narration. Alex Jennings gives a wonderfully understated performance in both roles through unobtrusive yet effective visual effects. It is a delightful conceit, perfectly executed.


As for Maggie Smith, she unsurprisingly shines in a tailor-made role which she had previously portrayed on stage and radio. Having provided the raw material for Bennett’s memoir, book, stage play, radio play and now this film, one could argue that the lady in the van certainly repaid the writer’s act of kindness many times over.

Alex Jennings, Alan Bennett
fact check, fact vs fiction, inaccuracies, true story

"They call not telling the truth 'lying,' but 'the imagination' would be a kinder way of putting it, with Alan Bennett the writer finally winning through to make Miss Shepherd talk of her past (as she never actually did) and even to bring her back from the dead in order to take her bodily up to heaven (also imaginary). These departures from the facts were genuinely hard-won and took some coming to, causing me to reflect, not for the first time, that the biggest handicap for a writer is to have had a decent upbringing."

Alan Bennett

No scene recreations in this biopic

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